According to a recent survey conducted by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), local legal aid programs expect to reduce staffing by more than 700 employees in 2012, including more than 325 attorneys, because of funding cuts. This represents a reduction of eight percent of full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions from the end of 2011.
Nationwide, programs receiving grants from LSC reported significant reductions in funding, staffing, and operations. Eighty-seven percent of the respondents report that their total (LSC and non-LSC) funding in 2012 will decrease significantly from 2011. Eighty-two percent of the programs with reserves expect to use those funds in 2012 to continue operations. One hundred thirty-three of the 134 LSC grantees responded to the survey.
As of December 2011, LSC-funded programs employed 9,185 FTE staff—including 4,360 attorneys—a reduction of 6.7 percent (661 positions) since December 2010. Over the two-year period from 2010 to 2012, LSC-funded programs expect to lose 14 percent of their staff, including nearly 600 attorneys (12.5 percent) and more than 300 paralegals (17.5 percent). Sixteen percent of respondents expect to close offices in 2012.
Of the programs reporting decreases in their total funding from 2011 to 2012, 91 percent (87 programs) expect to serve fewer clients and accept fewer cases, and 73 percent (70 programs) will restrict the types of cases accepted. Twenty-nine percent of programs expect to cut back services on foreclosure-related issues and services to victims of domestic violence.
A day before convening its July 27 meeting in Ann Arbor Michigan, the LSC Board of Directors hosted a forum on the state of civil legal services in the United States that included four state Chief Justices and a United States District Judge .
In his opening remarks for the forum, which was held at the University of Michigan Law School, LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi explained that the event was the second of several LSC plans to hold around the country to spotlight “the twin challenges now facing legal services programs across the country – significantly reduced resources and historically high demand.”
The first forum, held in April, was co-hosted by the White House. Read about, and see photos and video from, the White House Forum.
The Ann Arbor forum began with a panel of judges: Judge Denise Page Hood of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, together with state supreme court Chief Justices Mark Cady of Iowa, Cornelia Clark of Tennessee, Thomas Kilbride of Illinois, and Richard Teitelman of Missouri. Harvard Law School Dean and LSC Board Vice Chair Martha Minow moderated the panel.
The panelists discussed how, in a climate of eroding resources, their courts are attempting to address issues such as language access for non-English-speaking individuals and providing support to help pro se litigants navigate the court system. They also talked about the importance of collaboration among equal justice stakeholders to garner adequate resources and bring about necessary change.
In response to a question about whether the panelists have seen evidence of more people having difficulty gaining access to justice, Chief Justice Clark of Tennessee said, “In both the court system and our administrative system we simply find more people who come and have no idea what has been going on, or who don’t appear when they are summoned because they didn’t understand the papers that were delivered to them, or they don’t speak English as their first language, or they simply have no idea what the system is about.”
Chief Justice Teitelman agreed. “There’s a huge demand for the services” in Missouri, he said, citing statistics that show increases in domestic violence and homelessness among other issues.
Chief Justice Cady of Iowa said he has seen the same thing in his state. Because of specialty court closures and reductions in other services due to budgetary constraints, he said, “I can conclude that we are denying more and more access to the people that perhaps need us the most.”
“It’s become our mantra, and we say it everywhere we go: A community is only as strong as the justice it can provide to its most vulnerable citizens, whoever they are, whatever their challenges are.” - Chief Justice Cornelia Clark
The panelists also discussed the challenges presented by increasing numbers of
pro se litigants who attempt – whether by choice or necessity – to navigate the courts with very little understanding of how they work. Some of the strategies courts have employed to address those challenges include standardizing filing forms across jurisdictions, providing information online and via pro se help desks, and utilizing the time and expertise of pro bono attorneys.
Judge Hood described “Law Day” events, where pro bono attorneys are available to review documents and answer questions to help self-represented litigants better understand their cases. “That seems to be a very effective way of getting
information to people,” she said.
Several of the panelists mentioned the growing number of individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) who need access to the courts.
“Providing access through language interpreters obviously is not a free exercise,” said Chief Justice Kilbride of Illinois, adding that improving language access in the courts is a focus of the state’s new Access to Justice Commission.
One overarching theme was the importance of working together to achieve shared objectives and the need to communicate that access to justice is an issue that affects the whole community.
A panel of domestic violence law experts from around the country and a panel of Michigan equal justice community leaders were also part of the forum.
The domestic violence panel discussed innovative work being done by LSC-funded legal services programs in California, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. The panelists were:
The Michigan equal justice panel discussed how the state’s collaborative approach affects both the quality and efficiency of legal services, and how legal aid offices are coping with the dual challenges of growing demand and reduced funding. The panelists were:
At a reception following the forum, LSC’s Board of Directors honored six Michigan lawyers for their volunteer work with LSC-funded legal aid programs. State Bar of Michigan President Julie I. Fershtman gave remarks.
The recipients of the Pro Bono Service Award were:
The LSC Board met on Friday, July 27. In addition to its regular business, the board heard a panel discussion of successes and challenges related to resource development. Those panelists were: Jennifer Bentley, Outreach and Development Manager, Legal Services of South Central Michigan; Daniel Glazier, Executive Director, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri; Steve Gottlieb, Executive Director, Atlanta Legal Aid Society; Meredith McBurney, ABA Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives; and Deierdre Weir, President and CEO, Legal Aid and Defender Association
The board’s luncheon featured two speakers: former Detroit Mayor Dennis W. Archer, who served on the Michigan Supreme Court and was the first African-American president of the American Bar Association, and Suellyn Scarnecchia, a University of Michigan Law School Clinical Law Professor and former Vice President and General Counsel of the University of Michigan.
At the 2012 Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice, hosted by LSC on June 21-22 in Silver Spring, Maryland, nearly 50 invited participants – including technology experts, academics, private practitioners, and representatives of legal services programs, courts, and governmental and business entities – explored the potential of technology to move the United States toward providing service of some form to all with a legal need.
The first of two planned for this year and early next, the gathering focused on the development of ideas. A follow-up, tentatively planned for January, will focus on implementation. Fourteen white papers were produced in advance of the summit and were used to focus the discussion. They will be published, some in print and the rest online, by the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology.
In opening remarks, LSC President James J. Sandman challenged the group to “think big” in considering how technology might be used to make the legal process more accessible to clients, how to “get the biggest bang for our buck,” and how to maximize communication and cooperation among everyone in the equal justice community.
Although the number of Americans living in poverty is at an all-time high and funding in inflation-adjusted dollars for legal aid is at an all-time low, Sandman was optimistic about the potential impact of the summit.
“I am convinced that this gathering is going to make a difference,” he said. “My hope, my certainty, is that in just a few years all of you are going to look back on your participation in this conference as one of the things you are proudest of.”
In addition to meeting in small working groups, participants heard from three speakers: Chief Judge Eric T. Washington of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and President of the Conference of Chief Justices; Marc Pierson, MD, Regional Vice President, Quality and Clinical Information at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Wash.; and United States Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.
Washington emphasized collaboration among the courts, the bar, private attorneys and legal aid programs. “We are in this together,” he said.
Pierson shared his experiences in employing both technology and the
ideas of patients to improve access to health care among low-income populations in Washington State. “Technology by itself is irrelevant. It is technology combined with sociology that makes a difference,” he said. “Know your customers – listen to them. They have good ideas, and aren't limited in the ways you are.”
Park encouraged the legal aid community to “think about what data you have that people can actually use” and then invite developers to brainstorm about what might be done with it.
He explained that the Department of Health and Human Services promotes innovative use of federal health data by holding intense technology development sessions, called “hack-a-thons” or “code-a-thons.” At these sessions, technology engineers learn about health care issues and the data sets that are available, and then design technology to improve individual and community health.
For each of the past three years, the best new technologies using health data from government and other sources have been showcased at a national Health Datapalooza, where innovators present their technologies to the audience, describing how they use data to make a meaningful impact on health.
Park offered his experience and assistance to the legal services community to organize similar events to improve access to justice.
The Public Welfare Foundation has made a grant of $276,000 in support of an 18-month project designed to improve LSC's data collection and reporting and to educate grantees about their own collection and use of data. The project relates to the first goal of LSC’s draft strategic plan – to maximize the availability, quality, and effectiveness of LSC-funded legal aid programs.
The project has three major objectives:
Chairman Levi’s August 6 speech to the ABA House of Delegates (text and video) –LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi discussed the challenges facing civil legal assistance in a speech at the ABA 2012 Annual Meeting.
ABA Pro Bono Standards Webinar Series – The American Bar Association will host eight online discussions to inform the revision of its Standards for Programs Providing Civil Pro Bono Legal Services to Persons of Limited Means. The first webinar is scheduled for August 24.
Fundamental Fairness and the Ability to Pay in Child Support Proceedings (video) – A recent Turner v. Rogers Anniversary Forum, co-sponsored by the Office of Child Support Enforcement and the Department of Justice Access to Justice Initiative, featured discussion of the social context of Turner v. Rogers, the importance of family-centered child support services, improving front-end services to set realistic orders to avoid arrearages and contempt, state innovations to reduce the inappropriate use of contempt, and the role of legal services and self-help materials.
With the number of people in living in poverty at an all-time high, deep cuts in funding for legal aid are straining legal services programs, and impacting communities across the country.